Edited by: Keri Stooksbury
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It’s not every day you go to a puppet-branded, SeaWorld-operated amusement park in the northern Philadelphia suburbs, but when you do, you want to make sure you’re getting the best deal you can — and that you’ll actually enjoy it. That’s part of the reason I went to Sesame Place Philadelphia this summer to scout it out for anyone thinking of making a day of it.
Full disclosure. Sesame Place and I have a long history together. I …
- … went to Sesame Place in Philadelphia in its opening week as a child …
- … worked at Sesame Place in the summer as a teen …
- … have returned to Sesame Place repeatedly (if not always willingly) as the parent of a young child.
Is a visit to Sesame Place in Philadelphia worthwhile nowadays? Has the food improved from what could generously have been described as ’90s public school cafeteria fare? How much Elmo is too much Elmo?
I booked a day at Sesame Place in Philadelphia for my family (me, my wife, and our 5-year-old boy) one weekend in August 2023 using the park’s official website, SesamePlace.com.
Sesame Place offers a season pass with bronze, silver, gold, and platinum tiers that, depending on the level of membership, have discounts on tickets, stroller rentals, and merchandise, special hours, special seating for the Main Street parade, and free parking. Platinum members also receive free admission to all SeaWorld parks, Busch Gardens, San Diego’s Sesame Place, and other SeaWorld Entertainment water parks. You don’t accrue Sesame Place points (which I assume would be called cookies), and Sesame Place isn’t a transfer partner with any credit cards or airlines. There is a transferable pass, but that just means you can rotate which guests you can bring to the park on your member pass.
Otherwise, you can buy a 1- or 2-day date-specific ticket or a more expensive any-day ticket (though some dates are blocked for these). Children 23 months and younger don’t need a ticket. The park uses dynamic pricing, so though its site claims regularly priced tickets start at $99 for every ticket, the price you pay depends greatly on when you go.
You can buy a FastPass-style add-on called Abby’s Unlimited Magic Queue, but I cannot recall a single instance our entire day where we saw a priority-access line or even a need for one — guests mostly converged to form a single line, and I doubt the young, overwhelmed staff could have maintained a special line for elite guests in the face of a raucous crowd of irritable, sunburned Philadelphians.
As I do not have a season pass, I paid $65.99 per person for a 1-day, date-specific regular admission in late August for a total of $197.97. I charged the tickets to my Chase Sapphire Reserve®, my go-to card for most travel for its 3x points bonus category and useful Ultimate Rewards points. But I couldn’t find anywhere on the Chase site that listed Sesame Place (or Busch Gardens or SeaWorld) as counting toward the 3x travel category, and I later saw on my statement that it coded as entertainment at 1x points.Hot Tip:
Sesame Place is on a 14-acre lot in Hulmeville, Pennsylvania, though most locals just say it’s in Langhorne. Both municipalities are in Bucks County, just north of Philadelphia. The park’s about a half-hour drive from Center City in Philadelphia or a 90-minute drive from New York City.
The theme park is just down the street from Oxford Valley Mall, a large indoor mall that’s been around forever and is limping along with its vast, empty expanses of parking despite the rapid decline of U.S. shopping malls in general. Remember this because this may end up being important for your visit.
When we went in the early afternoon one Saturday in late August, Sesame Place parking lots were so overwhelmed and backed up that a police officer sitting in his car told us to just park in the mall parking lot instead and walk back to Sesame Place, about a 5-minute stroll. “They don’t care. People park there all the time,” he said.
However, the management of the Red Robin next door to Sesame Place does care. They cared enough to put up a sign just for Sesame Place visitors. Don’t park at the Red Robin.
Regular Sesame Place parking cost $30 when we visited, or $45 for the lot closer to the park.
Check-in and Overview
Despite the long line for the parking lots, there wasn’t any wait to check in, and after a cursory check of our tickets and a lot of signs warning us that marijuana wasn’t allowed in the theme park, we waltzed right in.
The theming was consistent and started outside the park itself. Big Bird presided over the main entrance, and Sesame Street characters (yes, including Elmo) were everywhere, both in the form of costumed actors and the decor. They were less ubiquitous than in, say, Walt Disney World, however, and there were only a few character meet-and-greets throughout the day, as opposed to one being available somewhere in the park at basically all times, like at the Magic Kingdom.
At only 14 acres, we found it easy to cover the entire park in half a day, even with a small child, though the crowds and long lines meant we couldn’t actually go on all the rides. I’d downloaded the Sesame Place mobile app, which had a map that was useful the few times I got turned around.
If you’re a parent or caregiver, you’ve surely at some point had to endure the squeaky musings of the Red Menace (as he’s supposedly known at Children’s Television Workshop). Yes, we saw Elmo theming here, but it wasn’t all 100% him. We saw more of the older Sesame Street characters throughout most of the park. Elmo had his own themed area at the back of the park, with rides for younger kids.
On paper, the park boasted 25 attractions, including 11 dry rides and 9 wet rides for kids. In reality, we found some of these closed without explanation. Rides were categorized by height requirement, starting at those suitable for guests 36 inches and shorter and going up in increments of 4 inches until the rides that you had to be 48 inches or taller to go on.
We arrived a little before 1 p.m., stayed for about 4 hours, and went on a little more than half a dozen rides, depending on whether you count do-agains.
The park’s central axis was Main Street, made to look like Sesame Street from the original U.S. version of the long-running TV series.
From experience, I knew that it made the most sense to change into our bathing suits at home instead of relying on finding a place to change at the park. We also brought our own towels, which the park doesn’t provide (but does sell with the usual theme park markup). Lines formed at times to use the family bathrooms to change, and the facilities weren’t terrible but also could’ve used more regular cleaning and refills on soap and other necessities. There were adult changing stations near Bert’s Topsy Turvy Tunnels and Ernie’s Twisty Turny Tunnels, but they were essentially open-air stalls.
The bathrooms, in general, weren’t quite filthy but were definitely not kept up, including having empty soap and towel dispensers and full of those perpetual puddles that always haunt waterpark restrooms.
Most of the wet rides were to one side of Main Street, including Big Bird’s Rambling Lazy River, which circled around much of that side of the park. It was fun enough for our child to want to do it twice, but the teens in charge of letting people in and maintaining it were in over their heads (not literally) and couldn’t handle the crowds, pushy parents, and litter — at one point, biohazardous trash floated by us as we tubed down the river.
There was a sensory-relief station in the middle of the wet side of the park.
Even though it was a wet attraction, the Count’s Splash Castle was on the other side of Main Street and had one of those huge splash buckets that dumped cold water on the people below.
There were bigger-kid water rides, including a slide for entire families or groups to ride down at the same time, but the lines wrapped around the area, so we had to skip them.
The park was noticeably dirtier around the water areas than near the dry rides, but there wasn’t any area that couldn’t have benefited from a few more sweeps from the cleaning crews.
The staff had a seriously difficult time keeping personal flotation devices (PFDS or life vests) stocked by any of the rides. I saw beleaguered teens who were supposed to be manning rides instead constantly forced to leave their stations just to restock the PFDs.
Toddlers, babies, and overheating older people escaped to a Twiddlebugs-themed water play area under a giant watering can.
The lockers and pool loungers were almost all in a single corner of the park overlooking the splash castle. The lockers were $35 for the day.
When I worked here, there was a wave pool. At least once a day, the entire pool had to be closed down and cleaned up because some kid pooped in it. Occasionally, it would happen twice in a single day.
I found the wave pool long gone on this trip. Instead, there was a splash pad with overhead sprinklers. No poop.
Elmo’s World was all dry rides, the kind you’d be familiar with from any local fair. Fortunately, you didn’t have to hear Elmo’s nails-on-a-chalkboard falsetto voice much.
Next to Elmo’s World was Cookie’s Monster Land, which included an elevated, kids-only ropes course.
There were regular parades of the costumed characters on floats down Main Street, and Sesame Place listed the schedule for the parades and similar events. One thing that hasn’t changed at all since I was a kid was that most of Main Street has almost no relief from the sun, and you can really feel it in the summer among the crowds. Bring water and wide-brimmed hats, but don’t be the kind of jerk who opens an umbrella in a crowd at a parade.
The heat’s even worse inside the suits. When I worked here as a teen, the characters were all played by struggling dancers, and the Big Bird costume required male performers who were at least 6 feet tall. All the Big Birds had to share only 2 Big Bird costumes. Let’s just say the suits could seriously stink after a few wearings, and since the costumes were impossible to clean, you could be stuck with a foul-smelling fowl costume.
I didn’t get close enough to the Big Bird this visit to smell whether the costume had been cleaned yet.
The theming on Main Street was admirable — you could take photos from inside Big Bird’s nest. You could also hang out outside Oscar’s trash can, where you could almost hear the Grouch’s cantankerous grumbling from inside.
Live shows featuring costumed characters were in Paradise Theater, and most shows were included in the ticket price. In my previous experiences, finding seats on crowded days was hard, so it wasn’t unusual to see people lining up well before showtime.
Another downside, though minor: When you looked closer, the theming was well-detailed and cute — but dated.
Seriously, these late-’90s-era jokes were so old that some parents here were too young to go on the rides when these references were still relevant.
Food and Beverage
Sesame Place has had infamously mediocre food for almost all the years I’ve known it. During the pandemic, the park made a big deal about updating its offerings. Food writers and bloggers reported that the options were vastly improved, so I was looking forward to trying the food for myself.
We arrived at the park around 12:50 p.m., ready for a food tour right away.
But there was no food. Like none.
Almost all the eateries were closed, and the couple that were open (the burger place and the pizzeria) had what looked like hourlong lines.
The Sesame Place app didn’t list opening or closing times. You could nominally order takeout from the pizzeria using the app, but the mobile ordering pickup line was also chaos.
And even the takeaway food shop looked like a Moscow grocery in 1990 — completely empty food shelves. Again, we got here before 1 p.m., which is not unreasonably late for a weekend lunch in the U.S.
The same applied to Mr. Hooper’s Emporium, where a good quarter of the store was bare of merchandise. It wasn’t a good look.
There were cart vendors still open, but the prices were exorbitant. Inflation doesn’t explain how Sesame Place could think it was OK to charge $12 for a supermarket hot dog and bun and then $5 extra for a bag of chips. (The burger and pizza places were so packed that I couldn’t get in to check out their prices, but on a visit a couple of years ago, I paid about $20 for a basic burger.)
So, we didn’t have much choice when we got a funnel cake and a lemonade, which came to $20.57 total with taxes. To keep up with the growing line of all the guests thinking along the same lines, the teenage staff at the funnel cake stand started making them in batches as fast they could, stacking them up on the side to mete out to customers who’d finished paying. Which was a process in itself — they still hadn’t mastered the credit card machines, and the thin, sticky glaze of funnel cake sugar over everything within 10 feet seemed to make the readers unreliable.
The problem with funnel cake, of course, is that you have to serve it immediately so it’s still hot and crispy. Ours was somewhat warm and soggy. But, it was covered in confectioner’s sugar, so our 5-year-old loved it.
Have you ever asked, “What would it look like if a big corporation opened a children’s show-themed park and left it entirely in the hands of a bunch of teenagers and a handful of adult security guards?”
Well, Sesame Place is the answer. I’m not sure I saw a single staff member, even among the managers, who looked or acted mature enough to do more than just keep their heads above water on a busy summer day, and the result was a theme park that felt like it was barely being held together with duct tape and chewing gum.
But, in the end, how the kids enjoyed themselves is what mattered most. And our 5-year-old loved it and said he wanted to come back again right away. On the other hand, our 5-year-old is, you know, 5 years old and also said the same thing about his first hotel room with a bidet and rainfall shower. So, if we’re in the area on a hot day with nothing else to keep young children busy and happy, Sesame Place in Philadelphia is certainly … an option.
But the overworked and undertrained young staff, the unsanitary conditions, and the complete lack of reasonable food choices (or anything else) made me almost wish this “Sunny Day” had been rained out.
Featured Image Credit: Michael Y. Park. All images credited to Michael Y. Park unless where otherwise noted.
Frequently Asked Questions
What age is good for Sesame Place?
Sesame Place is geared toward younger children. It’s nominally for children 3 to 10, but kids on the older end of that scale may feel they’re too mature for it.
Is Sesame Place the same as Sesame Street?
Sesame Street is the fictional Manhattan street that’s home to the characters of “Sesame Street” the children’s TV show. Sesame Place is the name of theme parks in Pennsylvania and San Diego, California, that is operated by SeaWorld Entertainment and uses “Sesame Street” branding.
Is there parking at Sesame Place?
Technically, there is paid parking at Sesame Place, including extra for a “preferred” spot nearer to the park entrance, but the lots frequently overflow.
Can you bring food into Sesame Place?
No, you cannot bring outside food besides baby formula into Sesame Place unless you have a specific dietary requirement. You may bring bottled water or refillable water bottles.
What should I wear to Sesame Place?
In the summer wear a bathing suit. You will get wet.
Do I need to bring towels to Sesame Place?
Yes, you should bring your own towels to Sesame Place, as the park doesn’t provide these. There are stores inside the park where you can buy themed towels, too.
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About Michael Y. Park
Michael Y. Park is a journalist living in New York City. He’s traveled through Afghanistan disguised as a Hazara Shi’ite, slept with polar bears on the Canadian tundra, picnicked with the king and queen of Malaysia, tramped around organic farms in Cuba, ridden the world’s longest train through the Sahara, and choked down gasoline clams in North Korea.
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